US schools turn to online therapy due to shortage of counselors

Public schools in the United States are increasingly using online mental health services or teletherapy for students.

At least 16 of the 20 largest U.S. public school systems are offering online therapy, reaching millions of students, the Associated Press reports. In those systems alone, schools have signed provider contracts worth more than $70 million.

The business model is making so much money that venture capitalists As the market grows, they are investing in new companies. However, some experts have raised concerns about the quality of care provided by fast-growing tech companies.

But teachers say teletherapy works for many children and is filling a great need. Schools are also facing a shortage of on-site physicians. Online help has made therapy more easily available to children, especially poor students and those in rural areas. Schools let students connect online Consultant During the school day or after hours from home.

Ishu is a mother of two from Lancaster, California. She struggled to help her second-grade daughter deal with a serious condition Worry,

Last spring, her school district started a teletherapy program and Ishu enrolled her daughter in it. During a month-long weekly video session at her home, the girl opened up to a therapist. The therapist gave the student tools and techniques to reduce anxiety.

Ishu said, she learned that it’s OK to ask for help and that sometimes everyone needs a little extra help.

The 13,000-student school system, like many others, has counselors and psychologists on staff. But it’s not enough to meet the need, said Lancaster Trish Wilson. supervisor Of consultation.

He said physicians in the area are overwhelmed with cases, making it impossible to provide immediate care to students. Students rarely have to wait long for online sessions.

Students and their parents said in interviews that they turned to teletherapy after struggling with feelings of sadness, loneliness, stress and anxiety. For many, returning to in-person school after remote learning was very difficult.

Schools are turning to federal pandemic relief money for help as experts warn of worrying rates of youth depression, anxiety and suicide. Many school districts are signing contracts with private companies. Others are working with local health care providers, nonprofits, or state programs.

Mental health experts welcome the extra support but warn about potential dangers. For one thing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit on-site school counselors and psychologists. Competition with telehealth providers isn’t helping.

Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies serve as a wall. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

We have 44 counselors vacant postAnd telehealth of course makes an impact Our ability to fill them,” Doreen Hogans said. She is the Supervisor of School Counseling in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Hogans estimates that 20 percent of counselors leaving school have taken teletherapy jobs. Jobs often offer more flexible working hours than schools.

The companies’ rapid growth raises questions about the quality of physicians, their experience with children and confidentiality, said Kevin Dehill-Fuchel. He is the executive director of Counseling in Schools, a nonprofit that helps schools improve traditional, in-person mental health services.

One of the largest providers is San Francisco-based Hazel Health. It started with telemedicine health services in schools in 2016 and expanded to mental health in May 2021, CEO Josh Golomb said. It now has more than 300 therapists providing teletherapy to more than 150 school districts in 15 states.

Other providers are entering the field. In November, New York City launched a free telehealth therapy service for teens to help eliminate barriers access, said city health commissioner Ashwin Vasan. The New York company is paying Talkspace $26 million over three years for a service that allows teens to download an app and connect with therapists.

Unlike other cities, New York is serving all adolescents, whether they attend private, public, or home schools, or do not attend school at all.

“I really hope this will normalize and democratize access to mental health care for our youth,” Wasson said.

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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words in this story

venture capital N. Money that is used to start a new business

counselor N. a person who gives advice as a job: a person who gives advice to people

Worry N. fear or anxiety about what might happen

Supervision V to be in charge of

vacancy N. a job or position available for hire

Effect N. the action or force of one object striking another

access N. A way of getting close to, near, or reaching something or someone

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